Archive for the ‘June 17’ Category

Devotion for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday After Proper 6, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Hezekiah

Above:  Hezekiah

Image in the Public Domain

The Law of Moses, Faith, Works, and Justification

JUNE 17, 2019

JUNE 18, 2019

JUNE 19, 2019

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The Collect:

O God, throughout the ages you judge your people with mercy,

and you inspire us to speak your truth.

By your Spirit, anoint us for lives of faith and service,

and bring all people into your forgiveness,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 39

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The Assigned Readings:

2 Chronicles 29:1-19 (Monday)

2 Chronicles 30:1-12 (Tuesday)

2 Chronicles 30:13-27 (Wednesday)

Psalm 130 (All Days)

Galatians 3:1-9 (Monday)

Galatians 3:10-14 (Tuesday)

Mark 2:1-12 (Wednesday)

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For with Yahweh is faithful love,

with him generous ransom;

and he will ransom Israel

from all its sins.

–Psalm 130:7b-8, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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The Law of Moses receives positive treatment in 2 Chronicles 29 and 30.  Keeping it is an outward sign of devotion to God in the narrative from the reign of King Hezekiah.  After all, the theology of the Babylonian Exile is that it resulted from widespread and persistent disregard for the Law of Moses, especially those regarding idolatry and social injustice, especially economic exploitation and judicial corruption.

What are we to make, then, of St. Paul the Apostle’s attitude toward the Law of Moses?  The immediate context of Galatians 3 was the question of the relationship between faith and works with regard to justification with God.  St. Paul argued that justification with God occurs via faith alone, faith being inherently active; faith and works were, in the Apostle’s mind, a package deal.  He cited the example of Abraham, whose faith God reckoned as righteousness.  The author of the Letter of James cited that example also, but to argue that

a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.

–James 3:24, Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)

For the author of James faith was intellectual and not inherently active, so the pairing of faith and works was crucial.  The men agreed that active faith was essential.

Jesus came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it.  He engaged in disputes with religious officials whose legalism amplified certain aspects of the Law of Moses while ignoring the mandate to practice mercy, also part of the law.  Our Lord and Savior argued that certain religious leaders taught the Law of Moses wrongly, not that the law was invalid.  The law, ideally, was something that would become part of one, that one would keep it in principle, bearing in mind that some parts of it were culturally specific examples, and not becoming bogged down in them.  It was something one was supposed to keep as a matter of reverence and gratitude, not legalism.  Perhaps St. Paul was objecting more to legalism than to the Law of Moses itself.  He was, after all, engaged in a dispute with Judaizers, who insisted that Gentile converts to Christianity (then a Jewish sect) became Jews first.  The context of argument contributed to taking an opposite position, not seeking a moderate position.

Jesus agreed with Rabbi Hillel, who summarized the Torah as loving God with all of one’s being.  Hillel continued,

The rest is commentary.  Go and learn it.

Much of that commentary consists of instructions (many of them culturally specific) about how to care for the vulnerable people in our midst.  May we Gentiles follow the lead of our Jewish brethren and ask ourselves how to apply those laws in our contexts.  Then may we live according to the divine mandate to love God fully and each other as we love ourselves.  May we do this out of reverence and gratitude, as an expression of faith.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 4, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF PAUL CUFFEE, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MISSIONARY TO THE SHINNECOCK NATION

THE FEAST OF SAINT CASIMIR OF POLAND, PRINCE

THE FEAST OF EMANUEL CRONENWETT, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF SAINTS MARINUS OF CAESAREA, ROMAN SOLDIER AND CHRISTIAN MARTYR, AND ASTERIUS, ROMAN SENATOR AND CHRISTIAN MARTYR

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2016/03/04/the-law-of-moses-faith-works-and-justification/

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Devotion for Monday After Trinity Sunday, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Apples

Above:   Apples, Currier & Ives, 1868

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-USZC2-3226

Free to Love in God

JUNE 17, 2019

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The Collect:

God of heaven and earth, before the foundation of the universe

and the beginning of time you are the triune God:

Author of creation, eternal Word of salvation, life-giving Spirit of wisdom.

Guide is to all truth by your Spirit, that we may

proclaim all that Christ has revealed and rejoice in the glory he shares with us.

Glory and praise to you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 37

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The Assigned Readings:

Proverbs 7:1-4

Psalm 124

Ephesians 4:7-16

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…our help is in the name of Yahweh,

who made heaven and earth.

–Psalm 124:8, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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The main two lections for this day urge the readers to heed God’s wisdom.  Proverbs 7 uses the imagery of binding divine decrees to one’s fingers and writing them on the tablet of one’s heart, even identifying Wisdom as one’s sister and Understanding as one’s kinswoman.  We read in Galatians that St. Paul the Apostle had become vexed by the influence of Judaizers and the willingness of many Christians in that city to heed their words, not his.  They had surrendered their freedom in Christ, the Apostle insisted.  Even keeping the Jewish liturgical calendar was too much for St. Paul.

I, as a historian of religion, know that the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (the old “Southern Presbyterian Church”) of 1899 passed a resolution condemning the religious observance of Christmas and Easter.  I found the text of that resolution on page 430 the journal of that General Assembly:

There us no warrant for the observance of Christmas and Easter as holy days, but rather contrary (see Galatians iv. 9-11; Colossians ii. 16-21), and such observance is contrary to the principles of the Reformed faith, conducive to will-worship, and not in harmony with the simplicity of gospel in Jesus Christ.

I also denounce any such interpretation of that verse, for the rhythms of the liturgical year facilitate my spiritual life and define my three lectionary-based weblogs, including this one.  To focus in Galatians 4:10 outside of its textual, cultural, and historical contexts is to miss the point.

The point is that we, through Christ, are heirs of and members of the household of God.  We are free to love God, love each other in God, and glorify God.  We are free to knock down, not erect, artificial barriers to God–barriers which people have created and maintained for their own purposes, not those of God.  We are free to include those whom God includes, not to exclude them wrongly.  (The wrongly excluded in Galatians 4 were Gentiles.)  We are free to root our identity in God (in whom is our help) alone, not in the fact that we are not like those other people we dislike so much.

That is a teaching I am comfortable calling the apple of my eye.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 26, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALEXANDER OF ALEXANDRIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF EMILY MALBONE MORGAN, FOUNDER OF THE SOCIETY OF THE COMPANIONS OF THE HOLY CROSS

THE FEAST OF FRED ROGERS, EDUCATOR AND U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2016/02/26/free-to-love-in-god/

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Devotion for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Before Proper 6, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

03128v

Above:  March on Washington, August 28, 1963

Photographer = Warren K. Leffler

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-ppmcsa-03128

A Good Society

JUNE 15, 2017

JUNE 16, 2017

JUNE 17, 2017

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The Collect:

God of compassion, you have opened the way for us and brought us to yourself.

Pour your love into our hearts, that, overflowing with joy,

we may freely share the blessings of your realm and faithfully proclaim

the good news of your Son, Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 39

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The Assigned Readings:

Exodus 4:18-23 (Thursday)

Exodus 4:27-31 (Friday)

Exodus 6:28-7:13 (Saturday)

Psalm 100 (All Days)

Hebrews 3:1-6 (Thursday)

Acts 7:35-43 (Friday)

Mark 7:1-13 (Saturday)

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Know that the Lord is God;

it is he that has made us and we are his;

we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.

–Psalm 100:2, Common Worship (2000)

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Moses was a great man. His brother Aaron, a better speaker, joined Moses on a mission from God. Alas, the forces of the Egyptian Empire were not the only foes Moses faced, for he had to contend with his own people also. The miracle of the Exodus was that God freed the Hebrews. The text attempted a scientific explanation of the parting of the waters. Indeed, one can probably explain the plagues and the parting of the waters of the Sea of Reeds scientifically; I have heard attempts to do so. Assuming that these are accurate, they do not address the main point of the story: God freed the people.

Then the people rebelled. And they continued to do so, even creating a powerful monarchy which featured economic exploitation. In the time of our Lord and Savior religious authorities even accepted gifts which they knew placed the donor’s relatives at a financial disadvantage. How was that for complicity in dishonoring one’s parents?

As for ritual washing, I am somewhat sympathetic in attitude. Study of the past informs me that Medieval European Jews, who washed ritually, were cleaner than their Gentile fellow nationals. Such cleanliness contributed to a lower rate of transmission of the Bubonic Plague among Jews during the Black Death in the 1300s. This, ironically, became an excuse for anti-Semitic Gentiles to blame, attack, and kill Jews, some of whom confessed to false stories of poisoning wells to make the torture stop.

I embrace public cleanliness and health. Those are not the issues in Mark 7:1-13, however. No, the main issue there is persnickiness in minor matters and disregard for major ones. Contenting ourselves with low-hanging fruit and not addressing issues which challenge us where it hurts—as in money and status—is not a formula for true piety. Yet I read in history of people blaming women for the sin of prostitution when (A) these women had to choose between that and starvation, and (B) these critics did nothing to address the social structures of gender inequality which created the problem. We are reluctant to challenge a system which benefits us. We might even live in blindness to our sin of complicity due to our socialization.

Moses tried to create a society in which everyone was interdependent and mutually responsible. He attempted to forge a society which did not allow for exploitation. But the society, being people, became what the majority of its members preferred.

Society in my nation-state, the United States of America, has changed, as in the case of civil rights. It is changing—for both better and for worse. It is an ever-changing thing. May it change in the direction of mutuality, interdependence, and the rejection of exploitation.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 14, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF FRANCIS MAKEMIE, FATHER OF U.S. PRESBYTERIANISM

THE FEAST OF EDWARD HENRY BICKERSTETH, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF EXETER

THE FEAST OF JOHN ROBERTS/IEUAN GWYLLT, FOUNDER OF WELSH SINGING FESTIVALS

THE FEAST OF NGAKUKU, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/a-good-society/

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Devotion for June 16 and 17 (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   3 comments

Above:  Christ Pantocrator

Proverbs and John, Part VI:  Conquering the World

SUNDAY, JUNE 16, and MONDAY, JUNE 17, 2019

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Proverbs 16:1-24 (June 16)

Proverbs 17:1-28 (June 17)

Psalm 103 (Morning–June 16)

Psalm 5 (Morning–June 17)

Psalms 117 and 139 (Evening–June 16)

Psalms 84 and 29 (Evening–June 17)

John 16:1-16 (June 16)

John 16:17-33 (June 17)

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A scoundrel plots evil;

What is on his lips is like a scorching fire.

–Proverbs 16:27, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

Jesus was about to die because of human and evil designs.  Yet, in that context, in the Gospel of John, Jesus said,

I have told you all this

so that you  may have peace in me.

In the world you will have hardship,

but be courageous:

I have conquered the world.

–John 16:33, The New Jerusalem Bible

Such theology is either deluded and arrogant (therefore going before ruin and failure, according to Proverbs 16:16) or correct and properly confident.  I deem it to be the latter.  Hatred and raw imperial power can kill one whose example of love confront them, but love will never die.  Roman imperial officials killed Jesus yet God raised them.  The statement

I have conquered the world,

in hindsight, is clearly correct and properly confident, not deluded and arrogant.

As I ponder current events, I think about dictators who are willing to kill much of their population to retain power.  I also recognize indifference to human suffering among those who are not murderous potentates or their lackeys.  Has the love of Christ conquered the world today?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 12, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF DESIDERIUS ERASMUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN GUALBERT, FOUNDER OF THE VALLOMBROSAN BENEDICTINES

THE FEAST OF NATHAN SODERBLOM, ECUMENIST

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/04/24/proverbs-and-john-part-vi-conquering-the-world/

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Proper 6, Year B   21 comments

Above:  Christ Pantocrator

Jesus Shall Reign

The Sunday Closest to June 15

The Fourth Sunday After Pentecost

JUNE 17, 2018

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FIRST READING AND PSALM:  OPTION #1

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13 (New Revised Standard Version):

Samuel went to Ramah; and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul. Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the LORD was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel.

The Lord said to Samuel,

How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.

Samuel said,

How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.

And the Lord said,

Take a heifer with you, and say, “I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.” Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.

Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said,

Do you come peaceably?

He said,

Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.

And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought,

Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.

But the Lord said to Samuel,

Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.

Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said,

Neither has the Lord chosen this one.

Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said,

Neither has the Lord chosen this one.

Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse,

The Lord has not chosen any of these.

Samuel said to Jesse,

Are all your sons here?

And he said,

There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.

And Samuel said to Jesse,

Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.

He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said,

Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.

Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

Psalm 20 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  May the LORD answer you the day of trouble;

the Name of the God of Jacob defend you;

2  Send you help from his holy place

and strengthen you out of Zion;

3  Remember all your offerings

and accept your burnt sacrifice;

4  Grant you your heart’s desire

and prosper all your plans.

5  We will shout for joy at your victory

and triumph in the Name of our God;

may the LORD grant all your requests.

6  Now I know that the LORD gives victory to his anointed;

he will answer him out of his holy heaven,

with the victorious strength of his right hand.

7  Some put their trust in chariots and some in horses,

but we will call upon the Name of the LORD our God.

8  They collapse and fall down,

but we will arise and stand upright.

9  O LORD, give victory to the king

and answer us when we call.

FIRST READING AND PSALM:  OPTION #2

Ezekiel 17:22-24 (New Revised Standard Version):

Thus says the LORD God:

I myself will take a sprig

from the lofty top of a cedar;

I will set it out.

I will break off a tender one

from the topmost of its young twigs;

I myself will plant it

on a high and lofty mountain.

On the mountain height of Israel

I will plant it,

In order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit,

and become a noble cedar.

Under it every kind of bird will live;

in the shade of its branches will nest

winged creatures of every kind.

All the trees of the filed shall know

that I am the LORD.

I bring low the high tree;

I make high the low tree;

I dry up the green tree

and make the dry tree flourish.

I the LORD have spoken;

I will accomplish it.

Psalm 92:1-4, 11-14 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  It is a good thing to give thanks to the LORD,

and to sing praises to your Name, O Most High;

2  To tell of your loving-kindness early in the morning

and of your faithfulness in the night season;

3  On the psaltery, and on the lyre

and to the melody of the harp.

4  For you have made me glad by your acts, O LORD;

and I shout for joy because of the works of your hands.

11  The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree,

and shall spread abroad like a cedar of Lebanon.

12  Those who are planted in the house of the LORD

shall flourish in the courts of our God.

13  They shall still bear fruit in old age;

they shall be green and succulent;

14  That they may show how upright the LORD is,

my Rock, in whom there is no fault.

SECOND READING

2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17 (New Revised Standard Version):

We are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord– for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.

[Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences. We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.] For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

GOSPEL READING

Mark 4:26-34 (New Revised Standard Version):

Jesus said,

The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.

He also said,

With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.

With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

The Collect:

Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Some Related Posts:

Proper 6, Year A:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/11/30/proper-6-year-a/

1 Samuel 15-16:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2011/06/07/week-of-2-epiphany-tuesday-year-2/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/28/fourth-sunday-in-lent-year-a/

Mark 4:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/05/week-of-3-epiphany-friday-year-1/

Matthew 13 (Parallel to Mark 4):

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/01/11/proper-12-year-a/

The Remnant:

http://taylorfamilypoems.wordpress.com/2011/08/09/the-remnant/

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Yea, Amen! let all adore thee,

High on thine eternal throne;

Saviour, take the power and glory;

Claim the kingdom for thine own:

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Thou shalt reign, and thou alone.

–Charles Wesley, “Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending,” 1758, adapted

A mustard seed is quite small–not actually the smallest of seeds, for we humans know of smaller seeds–but it is minute.  Yet from it comes a mighty weed, a mustard plant, which goes where it will and offers shade and housing to a wide variety of wildlife.  The Kingdom of God, Jesus said, is like this giant weed:  unstoppable and containing a heterogeneous population.

He did not liken the Kingdom of God to a cedar of Lebanon, a mighty and lovely tree.  We will not ignore that species; I will, in fact, get to it very soon.

One of the options for the Old Testament lesson is the familiar story of Samuel anointing David, the most unlikely (in human estimation) candidate for kingship.  Yet, as the text reminds us, God and we human beings see differently.

From that tender sprout came a dynasty (likened to a cedar of Lebanon), one which fell on hard times within a few generations.  This brings me to the reading from Ezekiel.  17:22-24 flows naturally from 17:1-21, so I summarize those initial verses now.  The Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire had exiled King Jehoichin in 597 B.C.E. and installed Zedekiah, another member of the Davidic Dynasty, as King of Judah.  But Zedekiah rebelled.  So, in 586 B.C.E., the Chaldeans ended the existence of the Kingdom of Judah.  The Babylonian Exile began.  Many years later, the prophet Ezekiel predicted that through the Davidic line the world would, in time, come to worship God alone.  The days of glory of David and Solomon were over, but divine glory the likes of which no one alive had witnesses would become public and widespread.

This brings me to 2 Corinthians 5:6-17, which needs no summary.  Just read it again, for the text speaks for itself.

It is obvious that the prediction of universal worship of God has yet to come true.  We human beings can cooperate with God in helping that day become reality, but we cannot stand in its way.  Tyrants have tried.  They have murdered many Jews and Christians over thousands of years, but the Judeo-Christian tradition remains quite alive.  The mustard plant keeps going where it will.  One day, certainly after my lifetime, it will have gone everywhere on this planet.

Until then my fellow Christians and I can anticipate the day when these great words by Isaac Watts become reality:

Jesus shall reign where’er the sun

Doth his successive journeys run;

His kingdom stretch from shore to shore,

Till moons shall wax and wane no more.

–“Jesus Shall Reign,” 1719

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/02/05/jesus-shall-reign/

Week of Proper 6: Monday, Year 1   9 comments

Above:  Code of Hammurabi

A Different and Better Way Living in Love

JUNE 17, 2019

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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2 Corinthians 6:1-10 (An American Translation):

(I have reformatted the text for clarity.)

As God’s fellow-worker, I appeal to you, too, not to accept the favor of God then waste it.  For he says,

I have listened to you at a welcome time,

And helped you on a day of deliverance!

Now the welcome time has come!

This is the day of deliverance!  I put no obstacles in anyone’s path, so that no fault may be found with my work.  On the contrary, as a servant of God, I try in every way to commend myself in them, through my great endurance in

  • troubles,
  • difficulties,
  • hardships,
  • beatings,
  • imprisonments,
  • riots,
  • labors,
  • sleepless nights,
  • and hunger,

through

  • my purity of life,
  • my knowledge,
  • my patience,
  • my kindness,
  • my holiness of spirit,
  • my genuine love,
  • the truth of my teaching,
  • and the power of God;

with the weapons of uprightness for the right hand and the left,

in honor or dishonor,

in praise or blame;

  • considered an imposter, when I am true,
  • obscure, when I am well known,
  • at the point of death, yet here I am alive,
  • punished, but not dead yet,
  • pained, when I always glad,
  • poor, when I make many others rich,
  • penniless, when I really own everything.

Psalm 98 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Sing to the LORD a new song,

for he has done marvelous things.

2 With his right hand and his holy arm

has he won for himself the victory.

3 The LORD has made known his victory;

his righteousness has he openly shown in the sight of the nations.

4 He remembers his mercy and faithfulness to the house of Israel,

and all the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.

5 Shout with joy to the LORD, all you lands;

lift up your voice, rejoice, and sing.

6 Sing to the LORD with the harp,

with the harp and the voice of song.

7 With trumpets and the sound of the horn

shout with joy before the King, the LORD.

8 Let the sea make a noise and all that is in it,

the lands and those who dwell therein.

9 Let the rivers clap their hands,

and the hills ring out with joy before the LORD,

when he comes to judge the earth.

10 In righteousness shall he judge the world

and the peoples with equity.

Matthew 5:38-42 (An American Translation):

[Jesus continued,] “You have heard that they were told, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I tell you not to resist injury, but if anyone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other to him too; and if anyone wants to sue for your shirt, let him have your coat too.  And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go two miles with him.  If anyone begs from you, give to him, and when anyone wants to borrow money from you, do not turn away.”

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The Collect:

Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

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And if people will fight, and they strike a pregnant woman, and her children go out, and there will not be an injury, he shall be penalized according to what the woman’s husband will impose on him, and he will give it by the judges.  And if there will be an injury, then you shall give a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot, a burn for a burn, a wound for a wound, a hurt for a hurt.

And if a man will strike his slave’s eye or his maid’s eye and destroy it, he shall let him go, liberated, for his eye.  And if he will knock out his slave’s tooth or his maid’s tooth, he shall let him go liberated for his tooth.

–Exodus 21:22-27, Translated by Richard Elliott Friedman

(Commentary on the Torah with a New English Translation and the Hebrew Text, HarperCollins, 2001)

A common oversimplification of the presentation of God in the Hebrew Bible is that God is harsh there yet merciful in the New Testament.  Actually reading the Bible carefully should correct this understanding, although one cannot be sure of this at all times.  In fact, the God of the Hebrew Bible can be quite merciful and God can seem harsh in the New Testament.  Judgment and mercy coexist in both Testaments.

Consider the “an eye for an eye” rule, for example.  It is a variation on an older law code, the Code of Hammurabi.  Hammurabi was an 18th Century B.C.E. Mesopotamian king.     The following laws come from that code:

(196)  If a man put out the eye of another man, his eye shall be put out.

(197)  If he break another man’s bone, his bone shall be broken.

(198)  If he put out the eye of a freed man, or break the bone of a freed man, he shall pay one gold mina.

(199)  If he put out the eye of a man’s slave, or break the bone of a man’s slave, he shall pay one-half of its value.

(200)  If a man knock out the teeth of his equal, his teeth shall be knocked out.

(201)  If he knock out the teeth of a freed man, he shall pay one-third of a gold mina.

(202)  If any one strike the body of a man higher in rank than he, he shall receive sixty blows with an ox-whip in public.

(203)  If a free-born man strike the body of another free-born man or equal rank, he shall pay one gold mina.

(204)  If a freed man strike the body of another freed man, he shall pay ten shekels in money.

(205)  If the slave of a freed man strike the body of a freed man, his ear shall be cut off.

(206)  If during a quarrel one man strike another and wound him, then he shall swear, “I did not injure him wittingly,” and pay the physicians.

(207)  If the man die of his wound, he shall swear similarly, and if he (the deceased) was a free-born man, he shall pay half a mina in money.

(208)  If he was a freed man, he shall pay one-third of a mina.

(209)  If a man strike a free-born woman so that she lose her unborn child, he shall pay ten shekels for her loss.

(210)  If the woman die, his daughter shall be put to death.

(211)  If a woman of the free class lose her child by a blow, he shall pay five shekels in money.

(212)  If this woman die, he shall pay half a mina.

(213)  If he strike the maid-servant of a man, and she lose her child, he shall pay two shekels in money.

(214)  If this maid-servant die, he shall pay one-third of a mina.

(The full English translation is here:  http://www.wsu.edu/~dee/MESO/CODE.HTM.)

Relative to the subsequent Law of Moses, the Code of Hammurabi was harsher and made distinctions in the favor the the powerful, wealthy, and male.  An injured servant was still a servant under the Code of Hammurabi, for example, but was free under the provisions of the Law of Moses.  The function of the “eye for an eye” provision in the Law of Moses was to restrict vengeance.  And, in practical reality, people settled on financial penalties for physical injuries anyway.

But Jesus taught with his words and his deeds that we ought not to seek retaliation.  “An eye for an eye and a tooth for the tooth” leaves the world blind and toothless.”  I have heard this sentence in various media, including an episode of Babylon 5.  How can we reconcile and forgive each other if we are plotting revenge?

I think of the examples of those who have practiced nonviolence as a strategy of social change.  Mohandas K. Gandhi said that those who beat people who refuse to strike back begin to question themselves after a few blows.  What kind of person continues striking someone who refuses to resist?  How long can one justify to oneself committing such violence?  If the other person would just hit back, the internal dialogue would be different.  I recall also the nonviolent tactics of United States civil rights activists in the 1960s.  Not to strike back required great moral courage and denied the perpetrators of violence any semblance of moral justification for their heinous actions.

Revenge on Germany after World War I helped pave the road to the rise of the Nazi Party to power and the subsequent World War II.  After World War II, the United States helped rebuild Germany and Japan, which have become allies.  We need to remember this simple lesson more often than we do when considering foreign policy.  The monsters we fight are often those we have created via our anger and retribution.

If anyone had reasons to be angry, it was Paul of Tarsus.  Consider what he suffered for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Reread the passage from 2 Corinthians.  Paul is far from resentful.  He does, in fact, demonstrate “genuine love.”  And, as he writes, we ought not accept then waste the favor of God.  He did not, as history tells us.

Psalm 98 tells us that God has won and shown his victory.  Paul writes that the day of deliverance and divine favor has come.  We ought not seek retribution on such a glorious day.  This is a difficult lesson, for the desire to avenge oneself or another person is natural.  I know this desire.  But there is a better way, and it is called love.  Let us leave such judgment to God, who is wiser than we can ever hope to be, and, in grace, seek to build a beloved community of humans, for the benefit of all and the glory of God.

The note for Matthew 5:39-42 in The Orthodox Study Bible (2008) contains the following:

A saint of the desert once found his hut being looted of its paltry possessions, and he knelt in the corner praying for the bandits.  When they left, the monk realized that they had not taken his walking stick.  This monk pursued them for many days until he was able to give them the stick as well.  Seeing his humility, the bandits returned everything to him and were converted to Jesus Christ.

The point is this:  Only good defeats evil and brings our enemies.  If we resist evil with evil, we compromise ourselves morally and become our own enemy.  By grace, may we live according to love.  May we not play God, who alone has the right to make certain judgments.

Amen.

KRT